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Workplace gender gap

graphic
iconHowever rude an awakening her lesser earning power may be to a young woman starting her career as the new century arrives, the issue has been the subject of governmental and administrative debate for decades. Our time line starts in the 1940s  

Women and men: Payday


In this story:

Opposing views

Interpreting numbers

Self-censorship issues

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) - On this, there is no argument: Women earn less than men in the United States work force.

But what it means is subject to debate.

On average, for every dollar a man earned, a woman made 73 cents in 1998 -- the most recent year for which U.S. Census data is available. At that rate, the average 25-year-old working woman will lose more than $523,000 to unequal pay during her working life, according to the AFL-CIO.

"We're not saying government should evaluate all jobs and decide who gets paid what. But within companies or enterprises, jobs are evaluated all the time. We just want to take the discrimination out of the pay scales."
— Karen Nussbaum, AFL-CIO's Working Women

And since women are paid less now, they'll have fewer savings and smaller pensions than men later on, says the labor organization.

Organized labor says the disparity is even wider for African-American women and Latina women. The AFL-CIO reports that the former make 67 cents and the latter 58 cents for each male-earned dollar.

graphic

Opposing views

Not so fast, say observers at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington-based Employment Policy Foundation. It has published a book titled "A Closer Look at Comparable Worth" by economist Anita U. Hattiangadi and attorney Amy M. Habib. In the authors' view, the gender pay gap has been exaggerated.

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Is the pay imbalance between men and women mostly caused by such issues as women's choice of job fields and emphasis on homemaking? Or is it discrimination?

It's mostly women's choices and the realities of men's and women's respective roles in society.
It's an even mix of both: women's choices and the demands of childbirth, and of discrimination against them.
It's mostly discrimination. Roles can be shared or reversed and women can be as valued equally with men on the job.
View Results

Citing the national census data is pointless, the foundation's analysts say, because it doesn't take into account factors that affect wages -- age, education and experience.

"The way that number is calculated," says DJ Nordquist, a foundation spokeswoman, "it's basically throwing everybody into the same pool. It's essentially comparing apples and kumquats. It's comparing, for instance, a 22-year-old female college graduate to a 55-year-old male who's had 30 years of work experience.

"We feel that it's a red herring," she says. "It's been pushed by special interest groups that believe government should be setting the wage law for the rest of us. We think the free market does a pretty good job of setting wages."

Not really, counters Karen Nussbaum, director of the AFL-CIO's Working Women department. "We're not saying government should evaluate all jobs and decide who gets paid what," she says. "But within companies or enterprises, jobs are evaluated all the time. We just want to take the discrimination out of the pay scales."

Vicky Lovell, study director for the Institute for Women's Policy Research -- also based in Washington -- agrees with Nordquist that the 73-cents figure isn't an accurate reflection of the pay gap between men and women. But she thinks the chasm is wider than Nordquist portrays it.

When certain factors are taken into account, Lovell says -- factors including different jobs and industries dominated by one gender; the disparate rates of union membership and years of work experience; education and training -- women still earn 12 cents less on the dollar than men, Lovell says.

What accounts for this remaining difference is subject to speculation. "That 12 percent could include an element due to discrimination, or maybe it's due to some sort of productivity difference between men and women that we can't measure," Lovell says.

graphic

Interpreting numbers

In fact, there's no wage disparity at all among full-time workers between the ages of 21 and 35 who live alone, the Employment Policy Foundation's people say. What's more, the pay gap is only 3 percent among full-time employees who are married but childless, the foundation's information says.

Nordquist says that's because women in dual-earner couples with children still bear most of the child-rearing responsibility and tend to work fewer hours than their husbands, Nordquist says.

"The question is how do we interpret the fact that women don't have as much occupational choice as men do? Men can choose to have children and choose to be admitted to the work force because they've already established that women will be doing the caring work, relieving them of the work-family conflict. Society has narrowed women's choices in a way that it hasn't narrowed men's choices."
— Vicky Lovell, Institute for Women's Policy Research

"I think one of the best ways to address the pay gap is to start looking at the roles people play in the family," she says. "Until men work the same amount (at home) as their wives -- or work less (at their jobs) -- there's always going to be this issue."

A study co-authored by Phyllis Moen, a Cornell University professor of sociology and human development, found that men do in fact usually work longer hours outside the home than their wives in dual-earner couples. That study also found working couples without children saying they have more satisfying family lives than their counterparts with kids.

"The way we see this," says the AFL-CIO's Nussbaum, "is, yes -- if you're right out of school with a college education and no children, then you can earn somewhat near what men earn. But the fact is, the pay gap has always increased with age."

And Lovell says, "The question is how do we interpret the fact that women don't have as much occupational choice as men do? Men can choose to have children and choose to be admitted to the workforce because they've already established that women will be doing the caring work, relieving them of the work-family conflict.

"Society has narrowed women's choices in a way that it hasn't narrowed men's choices."

graphic

Self-censorship issues

The Employment Policy Foundation's Nordquist says one reason women's pay is lower than men's is that women are more apt to be liberal arts majors who go into lower-paying jobs -- while men are inclined to choose engineering and computer-science courses and pursue higher-paying careers.

But others argue that these aren't examples of poor career choices by women, but of careers dominated by men -- a subtle form of discrimination that undervalues women and some of the work they do.

Regarding the 73-cents-to-the-dollar figure as a comparison of women's and men's earnings: "The way that number is calculated, it's basically throwing everybody into the same pool. It's essentially comparing apples and kumquats. It's comparing, for instance, a 22-year-old female college graduate to a 55-year-old male who's had 30 years of work experience. We feel that it's a red herring. It's been pushed by special interest groups that believe government should be setting the wage law for the rest of us. We think the free market does a pretty good job of setting wages."

— DJ Nordquist, Employment Policy Foundation

"Who does the work is a big part of why women earn less," labor's Nussbaum says. "You can look at it from two very different types of jobs -- child-care worker and parking-lot attendant. Guess who earns more? Parking-lot attendants. That work is valued more by our society than a child-care worker."

It may be self-censorship we're seeing here, however, Women's Policy Research institute's Lovell says: a tendency for many women to steer clear of some high-income jobs dominated by men because of a perception that they'll be treated badly by their male colleagues.

So, for example, a woman who wants to be a neurosurgeon may opt to be a registered nurse instead because she's more accepted in that lower-paying, female-dominated job, Lovell says. "Women may adapt their career choices in response to this knowledge that they're not going to be as successful in the same work as a man would be."

Yet women are making inroads into fields that were once the exclusive domain of men, Nordquist says. There are four times as many female attorneys today as in 1975, and twice as many doctors, she says.

She also cites foundation research showing that women ages 35 to 44 with psychology degrees and working as social scientists earn 101 percent as much as their male colleagues. Women with engineering degrees between the ages of 33 and 44 make 95 percent as much as their male counterparts, she says.

"There is still a wage gap in every single job classification except one or two," Nussbaum counters. "There still is discrimination in pay in equal jobs."

  EQUAL PAY TIME LINE
graphic Read about some major moments in the movement toward equal pay for women and men in the United States. We start with the National War Labor Board in 1942.
 
  MESSAGE BOARD
graphic What's your opinion on why women continue to make less than men, particularly after so many years of attempts to equalize the pay levels? Jump into the debate and tell us your thoughts.
 

If so, women have a remedy, Nordquist says. Equal pay for equal work is the law under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

"If a woman finds herself in that situation, she should get a lawyer and sue her employer," Nordquist says. "Plenty of women do."

Maybe, but litigation is time-consuming and expensive and a woman filing suit won't likely have the same financial resources her employer will have to press the issue, Lovell counters.

Instead, she says, what's needed are better funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and federal compliance programs; passage of comparable-worth legislation; child-care subsidies; better family-leave policies; and increases to minimum wage and earned-income tax credits.

These things, according to Lovell, would go a long way toward shrinking the gender wage gap -- however wide it is.

graphic

 

RELATED STORIES:
Dual earners: Double trouble
November 13, 2000
Fair day
October 18, 2000
Greek women advancing
July 5, 2000
Gender-wage gap decided by more than discrimination
May 10, 2000

RELATED SITES:
AFL-CIO
Economic Policy Institute
Employment Policy Foundation
Institute for Women's Policy Research


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